Woman surrounded by cell phone bills

Three Alternative Cell Service Providers to Watch

This summer I switched to a new cell phone service provider. The process of picking out a plan was trickier than expected. (Would a two-year contract or a prepaid plan ultimately be cheaper? How much data did I need? Which provider had the best coverage in my area?)

Challenges aside, the process of researching cell phone plans did introduce me to several carriers off the beaten path that offer good deals. Three providers in particular struck me as worth looking into. The startups described below have the potential to disrupt the mobile wireless industry in a big way.

Republic Wireless: $19/month for unlimited talk, text, and data. Republic Wireless keeps costs down with what they term “hybrid calling.” Any time the user is within range of an accessible Wi-Fi network, calls are automatically made via voIP. When outside of a Wi-Fi network, calls and texts go over Sprint’s network. Republic Wireless is great value for those that want a smartphone on the cheap. Unfortunately, there are several significant downsides. For starters, users can only buy one phone: the Motorola Defy XT. Also, this Gizmodo blogger notes that it’s impossible to switch from Wi-Fi to the data network mid-call, so users risk losing calls when leaving the home or office on the phone. 

photo courtesy of Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via Flickr
photo courtesy of Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via Flickr

FreedomPop: Free. Well, free-ish. FreedomPop has been offering freemium wireless data services since its founding in 2011. Users buy a FreedomPop wireless hotspot or iPod case to get 500 MB of free data a month. If necessary, users can pay to get more data. Earlier this summer, FreedomPop announced that it was introducing a phone plan where users could get 500 MB of data, unlimited texting, and 200 minutes for a monthly cost of exactly zip (again, over Sprint’s network). Additional data will be available for a price. Sign up at freedompop.com/phone to get updates on the yet to be announced official release.

Zact: $3.99/month and up. Zact offers highly customizable plans in which users can pick between incremental amounts of data, texts, and talk time. If users don’t go through all of their data/minutes/texts, the extra charge is credited to their account for the next month. This was the plan that I ultimately chose. It made sense for to only pay for a small amount of data, since I’m usually on a Wi-Fi network. Zact does share a similar problem to Republic in terms of phone selection–users have a very limited choice of phones (the Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Victory, and LG Viper 4G LTE).

These are options well worth considering for anyone who’s been holding out on getting a smartphone because of cost. At the same time, it’s important to note that all three of these carriers piggyback off  Sprint’s network, which doesn’t offer as much 4G LTE coverage as competing carriers Verizon and AT &T.  It’s worth checking out a coverage map of your area prior to committing.

Are you using one of the three providers listed here?  Something else? Share your experience in the comments.

Linda Gorman

Linda is a junior dual major studying information management and technology and magazine journalism. Find her on twitter @lggorman or at lindaggorman.com

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  • jgessentials

    I would add Solavei to the list. Unlimited plans starting at $39/month with the possibility to make it free or even make money when you share it with others. http://www.solavei-wireless.us